Project highlights relevance of coding

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With the start of a new year comes new innovations in the classroom, as trustees with the Limestone District School Board heard at the January general meeting on Wednesday.

Representatives from the Coding in the Classroom pilot project at South-view Public School gave a presentation to the board about the success of the project, with a full semester to go.

Grade 8 students Alex Mercer and Thomas Richards, working together with teachers Tracy Bridgen and Matt Gallupe, were able to learn about coding — computer programming — and found that the skills required to do so covered many different areas.

“We knew nothing about coding as of the end of September,” Bridgen said. “[The students] knew more about coding than we did.”

The project involved having access to 10 mBots, small education robots that students built to complete tasks, as well as software to help program them.

Once the project got underway, the teachers were easily able to connect the work the students were doing directly to the curriculum, through math, science, language and collaborative team work.

It was important to include tangible goals, so the teachers set up three projects for the students to work on, including a tractor-pull activity, teaching geometry through mBot movements, and financial literacy through scratch coding.

“We tried to address it so that we were able to get [the students’] input after each one,” Gallupe said. “So rather than drawing a plan and doing the translation vectors, they actually did the translation vectors [with the mBots]. All of those things in Grade 8 math that we’d normally do on paper, we did using this, and they liked it.”

Both Mercer and Richards said coding is extremely relevant today and they see it as a marketable talent for students, adding that it is faster and more efficient and can engage students at all levels.

Gallupe noted that he’s seen an increase in attendance in his classroom since the project started.

Through pilot projects such as this, with trail and error and research built into it, the teachers found that students were able to put a number of important skills into practice, such as self-regulation, organization and collaboration.

The students created infographics for their experience with the project so other teachers can now implement it in their classrooms.

Mental health, wellness

The Ministry of Education has extended the deadline for input on its provincial well-being strategy.

Supervising principal Alison McDonnell and Amy Yuile, the board’s new chief psychologist and mental health lead, gave a presentation to the board about the mental health initiatives that are currently running in the board.

“When we’re talking about mental health in schools, we are envisioning creating an environment where our students and our staff are flourishing,” Yuile said. “That can mean a sense of belonging at school as well as equipping them with the skill to manage academic challenges as well as social and emotional challenge.”

Through the creation of a number of staff resources and general boardwide strategies, Yuile said staff and students are working to create a community of collaboration.

“We know that there is a clear relationship between mental health and academics,” Yuile said. “If you’re struggling with emotional concerns, it’s really hard to do well, to focus and concentrate on academic achievement.”

The focus includes promoting mental health, teaching social-emotional skills, promoting coping resources and reducing the stigma and providing outlets for students and staff to receive support. This includes the introduction of the brain bikes, calming toolkits, mindfulness training and general openness to exploring emotions and mental health issue inside and outside the classroom.

School renewal project

Trustees approved the 10-year capital school renewal project plan, which is reviewed and updated each year.

In June, the ministry announced more funding through the school renewal and school condition improvement plan. The limestone board will receive $1.1 million. School renewal will get $4.3 million and school condition improvement will receive $14.5 million.

Also, through the October 2016 ministry announcement of $50 million for the community hubs capital funding program, the local board will received $742,431 to put towards minor retrofits and accessibility.

Other topics

* The director’s annual report for 2015-16 is now online and provides a snapshot of learning. It is available online at annualreport.limestone.on.ca.

* Work has begun on the 2017-18 school calendar and the board is looking for feedback from parents and the school community. A survey, which needs to be completed online or on paper by Friday, Feb. 10, is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/9CY52FQ.

* The pupil accommodation review, or PAR, for Yarker Family School and Odessa Public School is now underway. The online survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/YarkerOdessaPARC.

jmckay@postmedia.com

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